UK hacker Gary McKinnon wins extradition battle

McKinnon won't be extradited to the US because of the risk to his health that extradition poses

Gary McKinnon, indicted in 2002 on charges of hacking into U.S. government computers, will not be extradited to the U.S., the U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May said on Tuesday.

The risk to McKinnon's health posed by extradition to the U.S. was simply too great, according to May.

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon arrives at the High Court to challenge his extradition to the United States, in London in this 2009 photo. (Photo: Andrew Winning / Reuters)

"After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr. McKinnon's extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon's human rights," said May.

It will now be for the director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether  McKinnon has a case to answer in a U.K. Court, according to May.

McKinnon has fought a decade-long battle in the U.K. courts to avoid extradition to the U.S., seeking instead to face trial in the U.K. He has Asperger's syndrome and is at high risk for suicide, according to a statement issued Monday by his attorney Karen Todner.

Psychiatrists appointed by the Home Secretary have confirmed part of that diagnosis, saying: "We can not offer reassurance that McKinnon would not attempt to, or be successful in, harming or killing himself if he is arrested or extradited," Todner's statement said.

Although McKinnon has publicly admitted to hacking, he has maintained that he was merely searching for proof of the existence of UFOs and that he did not harm the computers he accessed. He also pointed out weaknesses in the systems, such as the use of default passwords.

However, according to the indictment, McKinnon is accused of deleting critical files and causing up to $800,000 in damages, and also hampering U.S. military efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

May also addressed how the U.K. will handle extraditions going forward. On Monday she announced that the U.K. government's thinking is that it will opt out of all pre-Lisbon Treaty police and criminal justice measures, including the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

The EAW made headlines when Sweden issued a warrant to have WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange extradited to face sexual assault allegations.

Concerns with the EAW include the disproportionate use of the measure for trivial offenses and for actions that are not considered to be crimes in the U.K., as well as the lengthy pretrial detention of some British citizens overseas, according to May.

"We will therefore work with the European Commission, and with other Member States, to consider what changes can be made to improve the EAW's operation," said May.

She also confirmed the introduction of a forum bar into U.K. extradition law, meaning that when prosecution is possible in both the U.K. and another state, the British courts will be able to bar prosecution in other countries, with a court hearing held to determine where the case should be prosecuted.

"I believe extradition decisions must not only be fair, they must be seen to be fair, and they must be made in open court, where decisions can be challenged and explained," she said. "That is why I have decided to introduce a forum bar. This will mean that where prosecution is possible in both the UK and in another state, the British courts will be able to bar prosecution overseas, if they believe it is in the interests of justice to do so."

The bilateral protocol used by investigators and prosecutors in the U.K. and the U.S. is being updated, according to May.

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